WP1 Insights and opportunities

Knowledge share workshop

During the time period of February and April 2010, team members gathered national research data on how older persons are coping with loneliness and the findings of related projects in order to learn as much as possible about the challenges that ageing presents to them. These findings were shared and discussed at the very first partner workshop organized in Malmö in March 2010.

Having analysed the risk factors that can lead to unwanted loneliness and created the very first theoretical framework on which to base this preventative solution, the Express to Connect project then moved into its next phase in which we engaged with older people in all partner countries to discuss loneliness and why it is we are becoming lonely.

LEGO REALPlay workshops

In April 2010, all four countries organized REALPlay workshops in which the participants used Lego blocks to elucidate their personal views on fears and dreams associated with ageing and implications of retirement on social life. Instead of asking directly about feelings of loneliness, the workshops were designed to investigate in a different way how perceptions and experiences related to social connectedness and how the social life after retirement can be explained and described.

Older, retired adults attended the workshops in addition to their peers; family and friends and representatives from the community home care system. The challenges inherent in maintaining social connections were discussed at length in the workshops and ways of lessening the feelings of loneliness were mapped out. Copenhagen Living Lab was in charge of the workshop outline, recruitment criteria, briefing the team leaders and recapitulation.

Inspired and developed from LEGO Serious Play, REALPlay is a way of working with an initial understanding of a certain topic based on sharing personal experiences, perspectives and insights regarding the issue(s) at stake. Therefore the specific user-group engaging in REALPlay workshops has to reflect on the problem addressed.

In the case of Express to Connect we have worked with approximately 50 retired persons with different working-lives and periods of retirement behind them. The 6-hour workshop is structured by building and playing with Lego bricks in the sense that a set of key questions are to be answered by building a symbolic and metaphoric model, which are in turn presented to the group. Example of a question is: “What can spoil or challenge social relations in seniors’ lives? Take 20 minutes to ‘build’ your answer.”        

The findings from this initial gathering of insights helped target the key research questions for focused, in-depth exploration of the perceptions and everyday practices related to social connectedness and post-retirement loneliness of 20 individuals selected through ethnographic methods.     

Ethnographic-based research  

During May and July of 2010, qualitative ethnographic-based research was organised in the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland and Sweden. This consisted of visiting and interviewing all 20 retired persons in their own homes, collecting data according to a research plan written by Copenhagen Living Lab. One of the aims of these interviews was to gain a deep understanding of the challenges that the elderly face in their social interactions and of how social isolation can be prevented.

We talked about their situation, personal history and their everyday lives. We chose people on both sides of retirement, before and after retirement, as well as those in our other two risk categories – being ill or impaired and losing their closest partners and/or friends to death, illness or divorce.

So we were using these risk factors as criteria for the recruitment of our interviewees and we then used the visits and interviews to create a bottom-up, qualitative analysis and modelling for social connectedness, and from all this created our framework.

Debriefing and analysis

Drawing on social/cultural theory and analysis, we have defined social connectedness as a framework for how individuals are on one hand functionally related to society in terms of producing, reproducing and consuming and on the other hand emotionally related to other individuals with a preference to either sharing or solitude.

When this personal social order is disturbed by greater structural upheavals (as retirement), certain strategies compensate for the 'missing link' formed by feelings of either grief or relief. It often requires a new mind-set and ways of doing to redefine or establish a new personal order. This can be very difficult and connect to a higher risk of loneliness.

Age-related loneliness we see as following from the three main challenges: 1) retirement as such 2) one’s own illness or 3) the loss of dear one(s). They might co-occur and imply a range of barriers for people to feel social connectedness. 

Insights seminar in Finland

The results of the REALPlay workshops and ethnographic research were presented and discussed at a workshop organised in Finland on 21 June2010. One of the most important parts was that the critical transitional phases were recognised and described in terms of jobs barriers and desired outcomes (inspired from Outcome-Driven Innovation, strategy and the innovation process developed by Anthony Ulwick) and that the long-term measures beneficial in minimising the negative effects of ageing were mapped out.

These transitional phases include retirement, illnesses and losses. The elderly expressed the wish to continue living in their own homes, to have an identity outside of institutions, to be independent and to have more social and emotional connections once they have experienced these phases.

Creation of personas

The next stage of the project was to make the insights operational in the upcoming development process through personas and innovation tracks. During August and September of 2010, six different fictional persons were created to summarise the ethnographic insights into stories of people. These personas are based directly on the results of the ethnographic-based research done during the spring, and they described the target group definitions on a personal level. They became different ways of understanding the variety of situations that the older persons face, both negative and positive. The personas are:

The personas helped us to continue remembering what we have learned from the older persons' real lives while developing a way of safeguarding relevance and meaningfulness in a new solution.

Five innovation tracks

In addition to the personas, the analyses  – the transitional phases, identified jobs, barriers and outcomes – were given yet another analytical glance and they were formed into five tracks of innovation to decidedly guide and direct the design concept and prototyping process.   

These are:

  1. The gateway navigator: This is an idea of helping people over the threshold of becoming retired. How can we institutionalise this transition period in life? How can we make rituals to help people cope with it? There are rituals for when people are born, when they get married and, to some extent, when they die. We celebrate these life events in different ways and these help us cope with these major transitions but we don’t have the same rituals for retirement and we are supposed to cope with it ourselves. How can we prepare and support our coping with this major transition?
  2. The family re-configurator: How can we rebind with the family?
  3. The Assignment finder: This is related to the gateway navigator, but target is that we utilize all the competences and capabilities we may still have but not necessarily in the labour market.
  4. The friendship booster: This is energetic revitalizing and redefining new relationships but in a different context, that of retirement.
  5. The mind reliever: This is to help people deal with sorrow and loss, their own loss in terms of impairment as well as the loss of friends and loved ones.

The innovation tracks can be seen as an outline of possibilities for supporting important jobs and for helping to overcome the barriers to social connectedness – for achieving more sufficiently people’s desired outcomes.

Co-creation, partner workshop

The project partners gathered together for a co-creation workshop in Amsterdam 1–3 September 2010 to further work on the personas and innovation tracks, using them to develop the first versions of possible service concepts. The workshop was co-organised between Copenhagen Living Lab and Waag Society and its first day was set for presentations and qualification of innovation tracks and personas, the following for initial idea-generation. During the workshop three conceptual directions were explored and visualized in the form of collages and sketches.

In September 2010, a large panel of elderly persons also met in Amsterdam, working on preliminary conceptual design to further aid the Waag Society’s designers in their work. If we could make solutions that address these five innovation areas then we felt we were on track to creating solutions that work for our six personas. 

Collaboration between WP1, WP2 and WP3

Based on this initial research, the Express to Connect project went on to create a number of early prototype solutions by Waag Society. These prototypes looked at addressing the risk factors that can lead to unwanted loneliness. Ideas were discussed and developed together with elderly people in Amsterdam and they resulted in three different main ideas, from which paper prototypes were tested – organised by Halmstad University. Discussing and prioritising the three ideas, it was eventually decided by the Board that Express to Connect would move on to develop the final pilot application, given the working title of Play With Your Life (PWYL).